In 1978, after three novels that had little impact, John Irving broke through with "The World According to Garp." It was a phenomenon. It won the National Book Award and sold over 2 million copies in paperback within a year. The Modern Library named it one of the top 100 novels of the century. From Garp to 2010's "Last Night in Twisted River," in his novels and memoirs, Irving has explored the same characteristic obsessions: New England, wrestling, bears, Vienna. Now an eminence, Irving (who turns 70 on March 2), occupies a unique and enviable place in American letters -- one of the few authors to consistently achieve both critical and popular acclaim. He's had profound influence on subsequent generations, most recently Chad Harbach, whose 2011 "The Art of Fielding" shows a particular debt to Irving's style and themes.

All writers are readers, and in 2007, Irving gave J. Peder Zane a list of his own favorite books, which was published in "The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books."

John Irving's 10 Favorite Books

  • "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens
  • "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" by Thomas Hardy
  • "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • "The Mayor of Casterbridge" by Thomas Hardy
  • "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens
  • "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert
  • "The Fifth Business" by Robertson Davies
  • "The Tin Drum" by Gunther Grass
  • "One Hundred Years of Solitude" Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville

And like the works of the authors he loved most, Irving's own best books elevate melodrama with a shrewd humanity. For those who haven't experienced Irving or wish to revisit his world, here are the five essential novels.

Irving's Best

  • "A Prayer for Owen Meany"
  • "The Cider House Rules"
  • "The World According to Garp"
  • "A Widow for One Year"
  • "The Hotel New Hampshire"